Emily Potter, 17, of Dowagiac, Mich., a senior at Dowagiac Union High School, is actively involved in numerous projects to enhance the welfare of her Native American tribe, and has served as a volunteer counselor at a youth camp during each of the past several summers. Emily’s grandmother was her main connection to the Potowatomi tribe, and when she died, “I wanted to know more about where I came from and the teachings of Native traditions,” said Emily. That led to her joining the tribe’s youth council in 2016, which has enabled her to play a leading role in addressing several tribal issues. For example, she coordinated a project to provide every newborn in the tribe with a new handmade blanket, gave up Saturdays to clean a highway that the tribe adopted, and promoted sustainable farm land management and healthy eating choices among tribal members. “I feel my tribe has given me so much as a person and I want to give back to my community,” said Emily.
She also has been volunteering as a camp counselor for three weeks every summer, serving as a leader, mentor and role model for girls 7 to 14 years old. On duty 20 hours a day, seven days a week, Emily supervised group projects such as crafts and rope activities, and worked with her campers one-on-one to tackle challenges from overcoming homesickness to tying shoelaces. When Emily was a young camper at the summer camp years ago, she was inspired and encouraged by her counselors to be a better person and try new things, she said. “I feel like it was my duty to pass this along to the campers that are now attending.”